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One of my favorite pens to use with a pen plotter (such as an AxiDraw) are Sakura gelly roll pens! They come in many color flavors from classic white, and metallic gold, to even fluorescent options such as the Moonlight gelly rolls which will glow under UV light! They work great on dark paper (and white paper!)
Example Pen Plots Using Gelly Roll Pens: Black Paper Edition
Nothing beats white ink on black paper! The ink density that builds over time as pen lines overlap is quite lovely.
White gelly rolls create strong white lines on black paper as in this work by Diana (@di_diff_world on Instagram!)
Metallic gelly rolls also really pop on black paper such as this generative work by Vernon Miller (@aldernero on Instagram!)
Mix metallic gelly rolls for a rainbow effect as in this work by Adam Spannbauer (@thespanningset on Instagram!)
Truchet tiles never looked better drawn with a white gelly roll on black paper – example art by Floris de Jonge (@dejongefloris on Instagram.)
Gelly Roll Pens: Beautiful & Annoying All At Once
While you can achieve beautiful results with gelly roll pens, they can also be very trying to work with when it comes to pen plotting. But why?! The ink flow from these pens can be quite inconsistent. For this reason, I have found that the best gelly roll pens for plotting are medium width (I steer clear of fine gelly rolls!)
One advantage of using gelly roll pens is that the pen barrel is clear, so you will always know how much ink is left when you are plotting. I often have very long plots, and these pens will last quite some time.
In addition, they are wonderful for hatch fill shading (if that’s your thing!) However, ink flow from these pens worsens when there is less ink left in the pen!
Lastly, the ink on these pens will gather into a little blob, so when I plot with them, I first set the pen down on a piece of spare cardboard to get rid of that initial blob. There can be blobs too when plotting, but luckily, many of my plots have so many lines that those blobs end up hidden. It’s all about how your file is structured and where the end and beginning point is of your lines!
Pro Tip: Add a Little Weight
Gelly roll pens will often skip here and there though, so I will redraw broken lines at the end of the pen plot. Just select out those lines and run the new file (making sure to leave your paper and pen in place while you prep the new file!)
If you add extra weight to a medium gelly roll pen and the ink flow is still poor, the pen may be old and a bad batch so get yourself a new pen. Luckily, gelly rolls are fairly affordable and widely available (at least in the US!)
Multicolor Pen Plots: Doable, But Annoying!
Gelly roll pens are a tad annoying to register if you are trying to do a multicolor pen plot as the pen barrels aren’t really straight and are very inconsistent.
I highly recommend checking your pen registration when swapping pens, although you can always just wing it and see how it looks!
One Pass, Two Pass, Three Passes?
In general, I run gelly roll pens pretty slowly and with the extra weight, I tend to be pretty happy with the results with one pass. I like to see some of the paper texture and white variation when using white pens on black paper. However, if you would prefer a bolder, consistent line, you can always plot your file twice (don’t recommend plotting twice for hatch fill shading though as it can start to look messy and dull especially with the metallic gelly rolls!)
Overall, these pens are worth using with a pen plotter, although they do require some patience and even with extra weight added, you may need to redraw lines.
Where Can You Buy Gelly Roll Pens?
Sakura offers all of their pens as an ultimate set of 74 gelly roll pens, which I used as a color reference when I was starting out with gelly roll pens. You can pick up packs of metallics and white pens from Amazon and other online retailers!
Images in this post were used with permission by Michelle Chandra (@dirtalleydesign), Diana (@di_diff_world), Vernon Miller (@aldernero), Adam Spannbauer (@thespanningset) and Floris de Jonge (@dejongefloris.)
New to pen plotting?! Interested in making your own pen plot art?! Take 10% off an AxiDraw pen plotter and accessories with discount code DIRTALLEY10 when you buy directly from Evil Mad Scientist, the makers of the AxiDraw!
About the Author
Michelle Chandra studied art, design and code at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. Her work has been featured in many publications including Gizmodo, the Washington Post and Engadget. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @dirtalleydesign.